Saudi Arabia’s Cultural Diplomacy Instruments Across Muslim World
Story Code : 661112
The Saudi cultural diplomacy is mainly driven by two factors:
1. The regional developments and rivalry with parties that are seen by Riyadh threats to its Wahhabi ideology, including the Iran-led Axis of Resistance.
2. An ambition to propagate Wahhabi values and norms
Saudi Arabia has done massive work mixed with Wahhabi ideology for years to obtain cultural superiority among the Muslim countries, something made the Saudi scholars and elites advertise their country as the hub state of the Muslim world.
The main objective of the Saudi Arabian cultural diplomacy in the Muslim world is to promote the idea that the kingdom holds the geocultural leadership among the Muslim states, and that any resistance or defiance of this status will bring others high costs.
The Saudi leaders took stance against Iran as part of their cultural diplomacy campaign. They confronted the Iranian Islamic Revolution's core cultural and ideological tenets with their cultural diplomacy that tries to use various tools to challenge the Islamic Revolution’s ideological principles, as besides they blacken the Iranian policies by distribution of books and other publications at the same time to paint the conditions of the Sunnis of Iran as critical.
The Al Saud, moreover, excommunicate the Shiites using their Wahhabi channels. They seek to make killing of the Shiites, including their top leaders, as a normal practice across the Muslim world. Many media serving the Saudi agenda struggle to further sow divisions between the Shiite and Sunni Muslims by warning against growth of the so-called Shiite Crescent. They exhibit Iran as the representative of the region’s Shiite minority in the face of the Sunni majority led by Saudi Arabia.
The regional countries that place themselves under the flag of Riyadh and the Wahhabi clergy culturally and politically are rewarded majorly economically, politically, and even culturally for their postures. But bribe is not the only way to attract others, the Arab kingdom has other significant instruments to absorb social forces and elites from the like-minded states and even countries from the Axis of Resistance:
1. Social and published media
Encouraging and sometimes even threatening the writers and other cultural operatives for service, Wahhabi leaders publish books and magazines with large circulations which are distributed across the globe. Many Saudi regime-funded newspapers are published inside and outside Saudi Arabia in Arabic and English, such as Al-Jazirah, Al-Riyadh, Al-Nadwah, Al-Dawah, and Khorshid that are all circulated inside the kingdom and abroad. Many television and radio channels are broadcasting under supervision of the regime and intelligence services in different languages for internal and external audience. Of 1,800 satellite channels broadcasting in the Muslim world and other places, nearly 300 are busy propagating the Wahhabi ideology. Besides, nearly 40,000 social media pages and 4,000 websites are bombarding their audience with anti-Shiite material all the time.
2. Religious students and scholars admission
The World Assembly of Muslim Youth, based in Riyadh, is tasked with attracting students and youths from across the Muslim world. This is just one organization that helps Saudi Arabia promote Salafism and Wahhabism in pursuit of its cultural diplomacy to deter Shiite spread. The campaigners do their practice by isolating the Shiites and by claiming that they want to defend Islam through fighting deviance. In 2016, Saudi Arabia attracted a number of Iraqi Kurds to its religious higher education through providing them with religious services. The education centers that admitted these people all teach Salafi ideology.
The Kurdish students are not the only group admitted to the Saudi universities. Riyadh has launched a campaign of penetration to the community of prospective Kurdish elites and began admitting university students in non-religious fields like humanities, management, and medical science.
3. Exploiting international and Islamic organizations
The Muslim World League (MWL) is one of the international organizations taken advantage of by the Saudi leadership for its cultural diplomacy. A non-profit organization but with financial and political support from the Saudi royalty, the MWL has specific powers and founded following a bill approved by the Islamic General Conference in 1962 and at the suggestion of Saudi Arabia.
- Promotional activities including training international representatives, preachers, and missionaries.
- Sending university students to other countries under the title of religious culture ambassadors
- Setting up networks of elites consisting of Muslim scientists
- Holding Islamic international conferences
Such institutions as the International Islamic Fiqh Academy, World Supreme Council for Mosques, and World Assembly of Muslim Youth all serve under MWL supervision. Moreover, the MWL operates more than one thousand mosques and hundreds of Islamic centers around the world. Additionally, it so far funded 2 Islamic centers, 1259 mosques, 1069 religious schools, 200 religious institutes, 134 universities, 41 clinics, and 76 hospitals in other countries. The MWL also funds Arab World Institute (Institut du Monde Arabe) in Paris, established in 1980.